Blessed are the women who soar through menopause unscathed. Not all of us, however, are so lucky. There are about 38 different symptoms attributable to menopause.
We’ve all heard the complaints: suffering with embarrassing hot flashes, excess weight gain in the belly, vaginal dryness, drenching night sweats which interferes with sleep and creates daytime drowsiness, hair loss and libido gone south.
For myself, I became anxious and had my first panic attack ever. The million-dollar question my peri-menopausal or menopausal patients ask is, “Are there natural remedies to help alleviate my symptoms, or do I have to go on hormone replacement therapy (HRT)?”
Luckily, nature has provided several options for women if they are good candidates for natural therapies. It is always best to discuss the risk/benefits of HRT therapy with your endocrinologist especially if you have had medically induced menopause.
Science has not found for sure the exact reason why women have menopausal symptoms. According to Chinese medicine philosophy, young women have more yang energy, which is described as cool and moist.
As a woman ages, she becomes more yin – which brings elevated heat and dryness to the body. A woman becomes more yin around the menopausal age. Chinese doctors use cooling herbs to turn down the heat.
Western herbalists might look more at the lack of steady estrogen as a factor in creating the hot flashes. One strategy an herbalist might employ is using herbal remedies that prolong the ‘shelf life’ of estrogen.
Hormones operate best when they work together. Estrogen acts like the gas pedal, causing hormone sensitive tissues to grow in size and number. Progesterone acts like the brakes keeping estrogen in check.
Before menopause, progesterone begins to decline while estrogen levels stay about the same or even increase. When the ratio of estrogen to progesterone changes to favor estrogen getting more play time without being opposed by progesterone, women may experience weight gain, fuzzy brain and other symptoms.
The major change in the female body during menopause is that the ovaries no longer make the sex hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. That job shifts over to the adrenal glands – endocrine glands, which sit on top of the kidneys.
The adrenals wear many hats. They are the ‘stress handling’ glands and mobilize the body for “fight or flight” by releasing cortisol and adrenaline.
They also control fluid balance, stabilize blood sugar, heal and repair the body. With menopause, they have the added job of producing the sex hormones.
The stress hormones and the sex hormones come from the same precursor, pregnenolone. When stress takes over, especially long drawn out stress, the adrenal glands have to pump out more and more cortisol to meet the demands of the body.
As a result, pregnenolone will only convert into cortisol, making little to no sex hormones. As stated above, low progesterone output creates unopposed estrogen, increases the risk of cysts and cancer of the breast and uterus.
Many women who find themselves moving into menopause have high stress jobs, support aging parents, are moms themselves and manage a home. There is a lot of juggling.
Menopause may also bring up emotional issues for women. Issues of self-worth often come to a head during this time. This all contributes to the stress the adrenals have to compensate for.
Regarding natural alternatives to HRT, I have found most women will get the biggest bang for their buck by strengthening their adrenal glands.
Eat protein with each meal. Make sure animal products are hormone-free – otherwise your food contributes to elevated estrogen levels. Eat more organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible, especially the cruciferous kind.
Pesticide residues from non-organic food get into the body and mimic estrogen so the more organic fruits and vegetables you consume, the better. The best vegetables to help break down hormones in the liver are the cruciferous vegetables.
Eliminate refined carbohydrates and alcohol, which rob your body of B vitamins. B vitamins are the fuel which keep the adrenals going. Support the adrenal glands with vitamins, minerals, dessicated glandulars, herbs and adaptogens like maca.
Omega-3 fish oil is a must. Herbal licorice is a great tonic for the adrenals but is contraindicated if the blood pressure is high. A broad based support for the adrenals will ensure a steady foundation to help rebuild your reserves.
This protocol requires at least 12 weeks to stabilize the body. If symptoms persist, then I will use specific remedies aimed at the particular symptom.
Create a comprehensive plan to dial back stress and address the emotional feelings that come up at this time. Perhaps consider that menopausal symptoms are a red flag pleading with you to address what’s not working in your life and get support.
Maybe see a life or career coach or speak to a therapist. Do what relaxes you and gives you joy. Perhaps adding yoga, meditation, deep breathing, dancing, restorative bodywork like chiropractic adjustments, cranial-sacral work, chi gong and/or flower essences is the way to go.
Natural alternatives to HRT when a woman goes through menopause naturally, often work really well to help manage the symptoms with little to no side effects. Adding in lifestyle and dietary changes where needed is empowering.
However, when managing menopausal symptoms with a medically induced menopause (hysterectomy) it is best to sit with the doctors, look at the research and figure out what your best options are. In some cases, the best option is HRT.
What were your worst menopausal symptoms? How did you take care of them? What advice would you give women who are now undergoing menopause? What have you heard about natural alternatives to HRT? Please share your thoughts and observations in the comments below!
Editor’s note: none of the information in this article should be considered medical advice. Everyone’s body is unique, so please talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet, medication or exercise plans.